Ultima Underworld was not the first first person RPG/Action RPG available. What it was, as far as I know, was the first first person game (of any sort) that allowed free-form, instead of tile-based exploration, e.g. the dungeons of Ultima I, or Dungeon Master. Wolfenstein 3D, the second free-form first-person game, came out a few months later. Also, at the time of development, Looking Glass Studios was known as Blue Sky Productions.
A sequel, Ultima Underworld 2 was released a few years later. Although a fine game in its own right, most people seem to prefer the original.
Salient Game systems :
- A roll-your-own spell system based on runes. Each rune had a meaning, such as big("vas", in the game), negation("an"), or life("mani"), and by combining them into a "sentence" you could form a spell, such as "big heal"(vas mani), or "great death" (vas an mani). Most spells were documented in the instructions, but some were only discovered by logical experimentation. Players found the runes throughout the course of the game, increasing their spell "vocabulary" as they went.
- An automapping system that has never been even equaled in any game I have since played (excluding the one sequel). The automap was not only accurate, but provided the capability to add notes to the map to indicate important locations. It also looked so nice it was always a goal of mine to fill it in completely.
- Fairly detailed conversation trees with choices that affected how NPCs perceived your character.
- A respectable attempt at realistic physics. Thrown objects would fly through the air and then slide a bit along the ground, and a superball was even included that bounced quite nicely.
- A large persistent world. From anywhere in the game you could go back to any other location, and all game state was saved.
A version for the Pocket PC is currently being developed by ZioSoft. No release date was available at their website as of late April, 2002.
A French developer, Arkane Studios, is developing a spiritual successor to the games in the form of Arx Fatalis. A demo for the game is already available, but the game has not yet been released. The game will be published by Fishtank Interactive.